99/1 Naurizbay Batira St, Almaty, Republic of Kazakhstan
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The Dzungarian Alatau (Almaty Region, Kazakhstan)

This route enables you to explore landmarks of the Dzungarian Alatau that are rarely visited by tourists. You will meet a lot of wold animals and birds and take a horse-riding tour to Upper Lake Zhasylkol.

Route: The Dzungarian Alatau (Almaty Region, Kazakhstan)
Season: June to October
Recommended period: August to September
Route difficulty: average difficulty trekking
Elevation: 760 to 2800 m above sea level.


Day 1. Almaty—Taldykorgan—Sarkand

Departing from Almaty at 7:00. Arriving in Taldykorgan at 10:00. Visiting the Local History Museum of the Almaty Region. Lunch. Moving to Sarkand (about 159 km). The 2 hours' trip includes 2 to 3 stops near sights of interest and memorial as well as visiting the central office of Zhongar-Alatau National Park.  

Shoqan Walikhanov was the first to mention Sarkand in his essays on exploring Semirechye. It was back in 1857. Sarkand was initially a stanitsa founded by Siberian Cossacks. The first large settlements appeared on the bank of the Sarkand River in 1858, when 22 families moved from Kopal and Lepsi Uyezds. The first school opened in 1872. Sarkand District was established in 1928. In included Cherkasskoye Volost and Lepsi Uyezd. Sarkand became an urban-type settlement in 1964 and a city in 1968. Today it is a small but pretty town. Locals are mostly engaged in agriculture producing excellent wine. They even have a small brewery and a cheese factory. 

Arriving in Sarkand about 6 p.m. Check-in. Dinner, free time, and preparation for the start. An overnight in a Sarkand hotel.  

Kilometers to be driven: about 400.

Day 2. Sarkand—Koylyk Hillfort—Cherkassk Defense—Lepsinsk 

Rise at 09:00. Breakfast and packing. Moving to Koylyk Hillfort.  

Koylyk Hillfort was an important center of trade, crafts, and culture in the northeast Semirechye in the 13th to 14th century, where the headquarters of Karluk yabgus were situated. It is surrounded by a rampart, which is up to 4 m tall. It is a trapezoid in plan view. The northeastern wall is 1200 m long. The southwestern one stretches for 750 m and ends at the foot of the mountains. The city is famous for its bazaars. Apart from Muslims, it was home to a Christian community, which had a church. So reported Guillaume de Rubrouck, ambassador of King Louis IX of France to Mongol Möngke Khan, who had stayed in the city. Archaeological research at the hillfort took place in 1964. Unfortunately, the hillfort has been abandoned. However, it is worth a walk and a closer look—you might find a lot of interesting things.  

We have lunch at a local cafe and move to the Cherkassk Defense Memorial, Cherkassk village. There we visit a museum and a number of battle sites. 

The term Cherkassk Defense (1918–1919) refers to the combat operations of peasants from 12 Russian settlements in Lepsi Uyezd, Semirechye Province that took place behind the lines of White Guard troops in the context of desperate fighting between new settlers, of the one part, and Semirechye Cossacks, old residents, kulaks, and Kazakh bais, of the other part. In June 1918, peasants of Lepsi Uyezd formed defense detachments to protect their settlements against local White Cossacks, Alash Horde troops, and soldiers of the White Guard, who were pressing from the north. When troops of the White Guard had occupied the city of Sergiopolis, counterrevolutionary rebellions spread across the northern Semirechye. Peasant settlements suffered attacks of White Cossacks and Alash Horde troops. 

Moving to Lepsinsk settlement. Checking in at a local guest house. Dinner and rest. 

Kilometers to be driven: about 75 km.

Day 3. Lepsinsk—Lower Lake Zhasylkol

Breakfast at the guest house followed by a visit to the Local History Museum of Lepsinsk Village. 

Artefacts that have come down to us suggest that the area where Lepsinsk lies was inhabited back in the 12th century. To prove it, a burial mound stone known as Bal Bal, which dates back to the 12th or 10th century, was found in 1989. The oldest of locals report that there used to be three burial mounds with Turkic stone sculptures of granite in Lepsinsk. One used to lie near the porch of the Village Soviet's building. The second one is in a local's home. The third stone is believed to have been ploughed in near an Amur spring. In his 1390 campaign to central Moghulistan, Emir Timur made burial mounts on the Uygentas Pass not far from Lepsinsk. Those were to signify the borders of his empire. He put a sign of three rings onto his personal belongings. Such a sign was found near the foot of Kok Tobe near Lepsinsk in 1994. The modern history of Lepsinsk began in 1822. The abolition of khans' power caused the Kazakh clan known as Wusun to seek association with Russia. However, the first attempts were failed. It was not until 1846 that the agreement was signed under which Semirechye was included in Russia and Lepsinsk became a stanitsa. This is just a small part of the fascinating history of the small village. The oldest of local residents will tell you much more.  

After the museum tour, we move to the highest apiary of the Dzungarian Alatau, honey from which was sent to the last Russian tsar. Lunch at the apiary. Honey tasting. After lunch we walk to the Lower Lake Zhasylkol (about 4 km). We then put up a camp for dinner and rest. An overnight in a tent camp by the lake. 

Kilometers to be driven: about 30.

Day 4. Lower Lake Zhasylkol—Ak-Tas Plateau—Centipede Pass—Upper Lake Zhasylkol

Early rise, breakfast, and packing. Hiking up the grassy slope to the Ak-Tas Plateau. Crossing the Ak-Tas Plateau to the mirror spring. You will enjoy crossing the plateau and the views it offers. It is surrounded by vast alpine meadows and intricately shaped granite rocks. You can see nearly every peak of the Dzungarian Alatau in the distance.  

Rest and lunch by the spring. After rest, we move to the Centipede Pass, then go down the pass to the Agynykaty River. The pass is called Centipede because it has an elevation of about 1000 m and the path on its slope has 40 winding branches, each about 5 km long. Walking down the pass takes a lot of energy. Having descended from the pass, we move in the wide valley, wading across several rivers. We then put up a camp by a lake for dinner and rest. An overnight in a tent camp by the lake.

Total walking distance: 24 km

Day 5. Upper Lake Zhasylkol

A rest day by the lake. Walks in the nearby. An overnight in a tent camp by the lake. 

The lake is 2200 m above sea level on the bank of a tributary of the Kikozen River, the Kyzylauz River. It formed due to a big earthquake. The right slope collapsed, blocking the gorge with a large rock dam. The lake is 3.3 km long with an average width of 300 m. It shape is reminiscent of the Semirechensk salamander, an endangered species that is found in the Jungar Alatau only. The lake is a bluish green that matches the green slopes with alpine meadows and think low shrubs on them. It is a pity that the lake attracts few tourists due to its remote situation because it is no less attractive and picturesque than the lower lake.   

Day 6. Upper Lake Zhasylkol—Centipede Pass—Ak-Tas Plateau—Lower Lake Zhasylkol

Breakfast and packing. Walking along a pass leading through a wide alpine meadow, sometimes crossing the overflowing rivers, to the junction of the Agynakaty and Yekiasha. Before the junction we wade across the Agynakaty River and walk on along its right bank, leading to Tersai Gorge. Wading across the Tersai River. Stopping for lunch and rest. After the rest, we climb the Centipede Pass. After the ascent we rest on the Ak-Tas Plateau overlooking Lower Lake Zhasylkol. Lunch. After lunch, we cross the Ak-Tas Plateau to the mirror spring. Then we descend to the lower Lake Zhasylkol. The path traverses the slope, which is partly covered with thick tall grass and is thus hard to walk on. After descent we cross to the lake bank, put up a camp, have dinner, and rest. An overnight in a tent camp by the lake. 

Lower Lake Zhasylkol lies on the northern slope of the Dzungarian Alatau mountain ridge in the Agynykatty Valley at 1640 m above sea level. The lake's maximum length from the northern bank to the southern mouth of the Agynykatty River is 2070 meter with a maximum width of 751 meter in its norther part. A human being hardly entered the place until the 1980s, which is no wonder as it is the state border. Since the turbulent Agynykatty River enters the lake, which is also fed by numerous springs heading from the glaciers of the Dzungarian Alatau in summer, the water of Zhasylkol is turbid, a bright blue and green most of the time. It is home to beautiful red deer.

Day 7. Lower Lake Zhasylkol—Zhalanash Cordon—Lepsinsk

Breakfast, packing, and moving to the highest apiary of the Dzungarian Alatau. A stop at the apiary to taste honey. Then we move to Zhalanash Cordon and then to Lepsinsk. Check-in at the guest house. Dinner, steam bath, and rest. 

Kilometers to be driven: about 30. Walking distance: 3 km

Day 8. Lepsinsk—Sarkand—Taldykorgan—Almaty

Breakfast. Departure from Lepsinsk at 07:00 a.m. Lunch in Taldykorgan on the way. Arriving in Almaty at about 9 p.m.

Kilometers to be driven: about 700 km.

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